Thinking inside the box to get out of the box: Lateral thinking by Suf Alkhaldi

Creating ideas by lateral thinking
Creating ideas by lateral thinking

Since my early teenage years, I have been an avid reader. I have been in love with books, bookstores, and libraries. I like to discover and learn many things. I was not a super achiever although I wanted to be one.  I sought new tools to improve thinking, studying, and working.  Way back, as I listened to the radio one time, I heard a story about lateral thinking and how this method improves  our creativity by finding solutions and new discoveries. This was unusual. Most schools of thought relied heavily on the idea that creativity was a birthright. It is like an electric fence which separates the smart from the non-smart.  After reading a book about lateral thinking, I discovered that studying creativity is worth the effort, opening a wide door for possibilities.  I am a big fan of Dr. Edward De Bono the creator of the lateral thinking concept. This method of generating ideas has kept me fascinated with the human mind years until now. When Dr. De Bono came up with the concept that creativity can be taught and cultivated, this concept shattered the glass ceiling, eliminating the separation among creative and non-creative people. After all, it is the deliberate effort of  creating creativity — this is what counts. Lateral thinking can be used in our daily life to generate solutions to big and small problems. It generates parallel possibilities to solve one problem. It focuses on the process of thinking in a lateral way, meaning creating more possibilities to solve a problem. Most of these possibilities are impossible to apply. If these possibilities are not at least 60% impossible, that means you are not thinking out of the box – a beautiful concept to challenge your mind. I love this advice. The fear of coming up with crazy ideas, ignored or ridiculed by people is not scary anymore.  It is a part of the process to reach to great ideas.  Lateral thinking, in fact, invites you to bring ideas people can laugh at because this leads you to generate a second or third wave of possibilities which may contain the winning idea.

Generate impossible laughable ideas

To focus on the problem is not the right creative way. Instead, you should focus your attention on hypothetical ideas to solve a problem which might lead you to creative thinking.  My personal experience with lateral thinking results in coming up with a good idea within a week or so.  This type of thinking always helped me to find a solution – one that was usually simple and rewarding.  I used the lateral thinking technique for solving small problems in my research when I was a graduate student. Lateral thinking forces the mind to pay attention to simple solutions or ideas  which are totally unrelated to the problem, creating a mixture of thoughts.  Lateral thinking encourages our mind to find solutions in new places by paying attention to things, things that we might ignore. Since lateral thinking has several tools, I will only focus on one tool in this post leaving others for future posts.

Six thinking hats

This technique, created by Dr. De Bono, is designed for a team seeking creative solutions. Each member of the group will take on a particular role – or “wear” a different colored hat. There are six thinking hats:

  1. White Hat thinking explores and finds as much information as possible about the idea.
  2. Red Hat thinking evaluates the idea critically.
  3. Black Hat thinking (my favorite) explores all of the downsides of the idea. This hat can give you the worst-case scenarios for the future and possibly be ready if things go south.
  4. Yellow Hat thinking explores positive outcomes.
  5. Green Hat thinking finds solutions that might be very difficult to accept or digest.  This is what we call impossible solutions (60% rule).  This hat represents the heart of lateral thinking which pushes you to explore possibilities beyond what is really logical or acceptable. The Green Hat is the best hat to have fun playing with ideas.
  6. Blue Hat thinking keeps everyone grounded and realistic: could this idea be achieved? What do we need to do to make it happen?

In order to use these hats, I usually write the definition of each hat and list the possibilities under each hat using mind mapping –you don’t need to memorize the functions of the hats. Luckily, there are software and apps to help in this process. I usually use mind mapping with the thinking hats.  This strategy generates several leads with great outcomes, very focused.

The absence of magic bullets

I used mind mapping and thinking hats together to generate a lot of ideas for a problem I encountered with my son during his high school years.  I am sorry to say that none of what we explored turned out to be correct although we were very close. I discovered this by reviewing the notes that I kept for six years.  Having this frustration in fact is good because it teaches us the lesson:   there are no magic bullets in solving problems.  Life keeps us amazed no matter how hard we work and how creative we try. The secret is to keep trying!

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